The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Con Vivo concludes its 15th season with an outstanding concert of music by Spohr, Martinu and Dvorak with guest conductor John DeMain

May 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

For the conclusion of its 15th season, the Con Vivo chamber music ensemble (below, in a photo by Don Sylvester) called out an unusual plethora of players.

And, as it did back in 2013, it brought back conductor John DeMain (below), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, to whip them into shape.

The program consisted of three very ample works.

The first was the Nonet, Op. 31, composed in 1813 by Louis Spohr (below, 1784-1859) — the first of its kind for this combination of strings and winds.

It’s in that no-longer-Classical-but-not-quite-Romantic idiom in which Beethoven was the big troublemaker. It is music of charm and imagination, altogether enjoyable as one appreciates the composer’s experimentation.

Following this was a contrasting work in the same form, the Nonet No. 2 (1959) by Bohuslav Martinu (below, 1890-1959). It dates from the last months of the composer’s life — note that, by coincidence, he died exactly a century after Spohr.

Using Spohr’s same combination of the nine instruments (below), it is a perky affair, in which Czech song and dance meet Igor Stravinsky, as it were. The second of its three movements is a particularly beautiful piece of coloristic writing. It can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The pièce-de-resistance was the final work, the Serenade, Op. 44 (1878), by Antonin Dvorak (below, 1841-1904).

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite works by one of my favorite composers. Composed for 11 players, it is really the composer’s tribute to Mozart, via a Romantic rethinking of the kind of wind serenades that Mozart wrote so wonderfully.

Thus, it is really a wind octet, with the addition of a third horn plus two string players (cello and double bass). Adding those two stringed instruments was a wonderful idea, allowing a significant enrichment of textures in the bass role.

The pool of 14 players involved in the program drew upon a lot of superlative talent active in the Madison area. Highly accomplished players individually, they join in full-bodied ensembles, given the added spirit brought by DeMain’s leadership.

While it would be unfair to single out individuals too much, I must say that I was greatly impressed by Olga Pomolova’s command of the fiendishly difficult violin parts in the two nonets, while I was also struck by the strong leadership of Laura Medisky, who played oboe in the nonets and first oboe in the serenade. (Valree Casey played second oboe in the serenade.)

The audience at First Congregational Church responded justly with an enthusiastic ovation at the end. Truly an outstanding concert!


Classical music survey: What was the first piece of chamber music that you loved? And what is your favorite piece of chamber music now?

January 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The weekend always seems like a good time for a reader survey or poll.

So this week, here is what The Ear wants to know:

What was the first piece of chamber music that you loved and that really hooked you on chamber music?

And what is your favorite piece of chamber music now? (Below is the UW-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet.)

ProArte 2010 1

There are so many pieces to choose from in such a rich repertoire that covers all instruments and the human voice as well.

There are sonatas and duos for violin and cello with piano, for example, and songs for voice and piano or other accompaniment, There are piano trios and string trios. There are string quartets and piano quartets. There are wind quintets, string quintets and brass quintets as well as piano quintets. And there are even wonderful sextets, septets and octets. (Below are UW faculty members pianist Christopher Taylor and violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino.)

soh-hyun-park-altino-and-christopher-taylor

So what pieces or performers or qualities hooked you on chamber music?

And what pieces or performers or qualities keep you listening?

The “Trout” Quintet or the string quartets or the piano trios by Franz Schubert? For The Ear it was a magical and entrancing performance of the beautiful Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major by Schubert, performed outdoors. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Was it the Baroque trio sonatas  by Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel? Or various Classical-era sonatas and string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Ludwig van Beethoven? Maybe more Romantic string quartets by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms. Or more modern ones by Sergei Prokofiev or Dmitri Shostakovich? Perhaps even contemporary string quartets by Philip Glass? (Below are the Willy Street Chamber Players, who regularly program new music.)

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

Leave word in the COMMENT section with link to a YouTube performance if possible.

Maybe your choices will even help win over new converts to chamber music.

And be sure to tell us what appeals to you about chamber music versus other music genres such as operas and orchestral works.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players excel again – this time in music by Franz Schubert, Arnold Schoenberg and UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger

July 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) gave the second concert of their 2016 season on Friday night at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spright Street, on Madison’s near east side.

Willy Street Chamber Players group color

The program might have been called the “three Sch-es” in view of the alphabetical incipits of the three composers involved.

The first item was titled The Violinists in My Life, composed in 2011 by Laura Schwendinger (below), the American composer currently on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

The Belgian violin virtuoso and composer Eugène Ysaÿe set an example with his set of six Sonatas, Op. 27, for solo violin, each one a tribute to a great musician with whom he had worked. So Schwendinger composed five pieces for violin and piano, each one a kind of character piece about violinists with whom she has had fruitful contact.

Laura Schwendinger 2

The style can be sharp and abrupt, but there is a clear individuality to each piece, evoking the different personalities. The first of the five is dedicated to UW-Madison alumna Eleanor Bartsch (below), one of our Willys, and she played the whole set, deeply engaged in it, with pianist Thomas Kasdorf, also a graduate of the UW-Madison.

Eleanor Bartsch

Kasdorf (below) joined another of the group’s violinists, Paran Amirinazari, who also graduated from the UW-Madison, in a rarely heard late work by Franz Schubert, the Fantasie in C Major (D.934).(You can hear it played by violinist Benjamin Beilman, who has performed with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Schubert’s compositions for violin and piano are rarely heard in concerts these days, but this one has particular interest in that its latter portion is another of the composers set of variations on one of his own songs—in this case, the beautiful Sei mir gegrüsst. The total piece has a lot of lively passage work, which Amarinazari played with a mix of flair and affection.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

The crowning work was that extraordinary string sextet by Arnold Schoenberg (below), Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night). Composed in 1899 at the beginning of the composer’s career, it catches him still emerging from Late Romantic sensibilities, a good way before his radical move into the 12-tone idiom he created.

Arnold Schoenberg 1936

The score is just a trifle longish for the musical content, but its gorgeous chromatic richness is irresistible. It was inspired by a poem of Richard Dehmel, and both the original German text and an English translation were supplied to the audience, an interesting touch.

Above all, however, the performance was glowing, avoiding too much sentimental lushness, but conveying the emotionally charged writing with beautiful balance.

A clever touch, too, was the sitting pattern chosen, with the two violas facing the two violins and the two cellos in the rear—allowing the recurrent interaction between the first violin and first viola to emerge more clearly.

In sum, this was another wonderful session of first-class music-making by this remarkable assemblage of young talent.

NOTE: A program of music by Ludwig vanBeethoven, Philip Glass and Dmitri Shostakovich will be given next Friday at Immanuel Lutheran, but at NOON; and then that evening (at 8:30 p.m.) the group will participate in a special performance of George Crumb’s “Black Angels” — with an accompanying video — at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center.

The final Friday evening concert will be back at Immanuel Lutheran, at 6 p.m. on Friday, July 29, with music by Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli (Concerto Grosso), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Clarinet Quintet), and George Enescu (Octet).


Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society brings invention and energy to superb performances of three masterpieces by Bach, Mozart and Mendelssohn

June 26, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photos.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opened the final weekend of its 25th season at the Overture Center’s Playhouse on Friday night in a first-class program of three undeniable masterpieces.

The first was the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach. An appropriately sized chamber group (below) consisted of nine string players plus harpsichord, with the three soloists on two flutes and violin.

BDDS 2016 Bach Brandenburg JWB

The playing was clear and precise, with elegant flute playing by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt (far right) and Ivana Ugrčić (center)  and fabulous virtuosity from violinist Hye-Jin Kim (left).

BDDS 2016 Bach Brandenburg 4 soloists JWB

The second work was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25, K. 503. (Remember that this summer is the 25th anniversary season of BDDS.)

For this, the BDDS mustered a miniaturized orchestra of eight string players, three winds, and two substitutes (a violin for oboe, a cello for second bassoon). Though the concerto is a big-scaled one, this kind of performance suggests what might have been done in a salon musicale of the composer’s day.

BDDS 2016 Mozart PIano Concerto 25 JWB

For Jeffrey Sykes (below) as piano soloist it was a stellar outing, his playing marked by agility and vivacity. Also a bit of wit. For the first movement, he prepared his own cadenza, in which he carefully contemplated the main themes of the movement. When he came to the later part of its first theme, he discovered that its notes could become the opening notes of La Marseillaise (which had not been written yet). He carefully pondered, then moved on, unwilling to follow that explosive direction. (No Mozart on the Revolutionary barricades!)

jeffrey sykes

In all, it was a finely scaled-down performance, one that worked beautifully.

The last work was Felix Mendelssohn’s teenage miracle, the Octet in E-flat for strings. This work our eight players took on with a fine balance of exuberance and introspection—the fugal finale quite dazzling. (You can hear the final ,movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Part of the fascination of this score is how the young Mendelssohn was constantly able to devise, for each player, individual contributions to make to the whole. And actually witnessing the performance allows one to follow these interactions quite compellingly.

We could see the splendid musicians the BDDS brings together just relishing their chance to work together in such music. (And it was interesting to compare with the superlative excitement of the Willy Street Chamber Players when they performed it last summer.)

BDDS 2016 Mendelssohn Octet JWB

That makes 25 years of BDDS as of now.

Let’s have another 25, and maybe still another 25 after that — maintaining one of the happy mainstays of Madison’s summer musical life!


Classical music: Technical difficulties prevent a long or complicated new post today. The Ear apologizes but offers an update about concerts this weekend by the Madison Summer Choir and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society

June 24, 2016
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Due to technical difficulties beyond his control and at the web site host, The Ear cannot publish a new post today that is long or complicated, or has many links in the text. He apologizes and will let you know if and when the problems are solved. In the meantime, he will offer what he can.

There are several noteworthy concerts taking place this weekend:

BACH DANCING AND DYNAMITE SOCIETY

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society finishes up its Silver Jubilee summer season this weekend. The ensemble will perform two programs at the Playhouse in the Overture Center (Friday and Saturday nights) and in the Hillside Theater (Sunday afternoon and evening) at the Frank Lloyd Wright compound at Taliesin in Spring Green.

BDDS 25th poster

The “Quicksilver” program features: the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach; a reduced chamber version of the Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the String Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 — a double string quartet — by Felix Mendelssohn.

The second program is “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” It features a miniature viola concerto, “Soul Garden,” by the contemporary American composer Derek Bermel; and then the “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi and the “Four Seasons of Buenos of Aires” by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla. Movements from the two will be interspersed.

Here is a link with more information:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org/schedule.php

BDDS 2016 Mozart Flute Quartet Margaret Barker

THE MADISON SUMMER CHOIR

On Saturday night, at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus, the Madison Summer Choir (below), under the direction of Ben Luedcke, will perform a program called “This Is My Song: Music in the Struggle for Peace and Justice.” It includes music by Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn, Jean Sibelius and other composers. It features piano and orchestral accompaniments.

Here is a link with more information:

http://madisonsummerchoir.org

Summer Choir 2011 orchestraI


Classical music: The acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players announces its second summer season. Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear Madison Opera’s production of “The Tales of Hoffmann”

April 17, 2016
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is your last chance to hear the Madison Opera‘s production of Jacques Offenbach‘s “The Tales of Hoffmann.”

Here are two preview posts that appeared here:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/classical-music-jacques-offenbachs-fantastical-masterpiece-the-tales-of-hoffmann-will-be-performed-by-madison-opera-performs-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon-here-is-part/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/classical-music-its-easy-and-wrong-to-underestimate-offenbachs-tales-of-hoffmann-it-is-literally-fantastic-but-not-light-it-will-be-performed-by-madison-opera-on-friday/

Here is a review written by Greg Hettmansberger for his blog WhatGregSays and Madison Magazine:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/making-a-spectacle-of-themselves/

And here is a review by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/opera-review-hoffmann-pines-drinks-and-chases-skirts-in-madison/article_8c998a0e-038d-11e6-8a1a-3b3aba924b6d.html

By Jacob Stockinger

No new classical music group generated more great buzz last year than The Willy Street Chamber Players. And that enthusiasm was shared by The Ear, who can’t recall hearing anyone or anything being negative about the group’s inaugural season.

Here is a link to one rave review, written by John W. Barker for this blog, that focused on astounding performance of the famous Octet by Felix Mendelssohn and a Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 by Johann Sebastian Bach:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/classical-music-the-willies-the-willy-street-chamber-players-excel-in-bach-and-mendelssohn-at-the-last-concert-of-the-new-groups-inaugural-season/

A friend of The Ear who plays with the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) sends the following word:

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

Newcomers to the Madison classical music scene, the critically acclaimed group The Willy Street Chamber Players, will be returning to the stage for a second season this July.

The group will perform four concerts at Immanuel Lutheran Church (below), 1021 Spaight St., and season tickets are available now.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Immanuel Lutheran interior

Here is a link to the updated events page:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/events1.html

This summer’s concerts will include fresh performances of time-honored classics. They include the Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the fiery “Souvenir de Florence” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The season will also include works that will be new to many Madison audience members.

Guest artists include violinist Suzanne Beia (below top) of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; clarinetist Joe Morris (below middle), who is leaving the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and UW-Madison graduate student pianist Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom).

suzanne beia

Joseph Morris principal clarinet MSO

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

New this season will be a performance given in partnership with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art on the evening of Friday, July 22, 2016.

MMOCA icon 3

That’s when the Willy Street Chamber Players will present the monumental work, “Black Angels,” composed by George Crumb (below) for electric string quartet, in what promises to be an unforgettable performance.

Written in response to the Vietnam War, this avant-garde work requires players to amplify their instruments, speak with their mouths, perform with extended techniques, play on crystal glasses and more. (You can hear Part 1 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

George Crumb

In the meantime, you can hear the group live on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s Midday Show with Norman Gilliland (below) on this Thursday, April 21, at noon. This special broadcast will be performed in front of a live studio audience in celebration of the Midday Show’s 25th anniversary.

Gilliland_Norman_100

Visit www.willystreetchamberplayers.org for 2016 season details, tickets and more.


Classical music: Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television again ring in the New Year with music — but too late. Plus, tomorrow morning WORT broadcasts a recording of the Willy Street Chamber Players

December 30, 2015
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ALERT: The Ear’s friend and radio host colleague Rich Samuels writes: “I’ll be airing the performance of Felix Mendelssohn‘s Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, by the Willy Street Chamber Players (below)  on this Thursday morning (Dec.  31) at 7:14 on my “Anything Goes” broadcast on WORT-FM 88.9.  (It was recorded July 31, 2015 by WORT at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church). I think this was the high point of the ensemble’s inaugural season. It’s nice to know WSCP will be back next summer and that they have a special event scheduled on Jan. 23 and 24.” 

willy street chamber players b&w

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s post is just a simple reminder of the various programs that Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television will soon air to once again ring in the New Year with classical music.

Both organizations are outstanding friends of classical music, although sometimes The Ear wishes there was more music and fewer British mysteries — which this year interfere with arts programming and push music broadcasts later.

NEW YEAR’S EVE

On Thursday night from 10 to 11:30 p.m., Wisconsin Public Television will air an all-French program from New York City with Alan Gilbert (below top) conducting the New York Philharmonic and guest soloist mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (below bottom). “Live From Lincoln Center” will broadcast “La Vie Parisienne” (Parisian Life) program includes music by Jacques Offenbach and Camille Saint-Saens.

New York Philharmonic

Susan Graham USE

Also featured are classical pianist Inon Barnatan (below top), who performed a recital for the Wisconsin Union Theater, and jazz pianist Makoto Ozone (below bottom) in “The Carnival of the Animals.”

Inon Barnatan

makoto.ozone.01

The Ear likes the program and wonders if it was decided before or after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

However, The Ear is very disappointed by the late hour of the airing. It would be better if young people and children could hear and see it. He would much prefer prime-time broadcasts from 8 to 9:30 p.m. or maybe 9 to 10:30 p.m.

What do readers think?

La vie parisienne

NEW YEAR’S DAY

On Friday morning from 10 a.m. to noon, Wisconsin Public Radio will air a broadcast from Vienna’s Golden Hall (below) of “New Year’s Concert From Vienna,” with waltzes and polkas by the Strauss family as well as some other music.

New Year 2015 Golden Hall

This is the 75th anniversary of the event that will be broadcast to more than 90 countries and seen by some 50 million people. It is billed as the world’s largest classical music event.

Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons, who leads the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and appears regularly with major orchestras around the world, is returning for his third stint as the conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic for this program.

mariss jansons 2015

Here is a link with more information, which is hard and confusing to find on the website (look under Seasonal Programming, not the regular schedule):

http://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/en

In the afternoon from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and in the evening form 10 to 11:30 p.m., the 32nd annual television version of “Great Performances” will be broadcast by Wisconsin Public Television. Actress Julie Andrews (below) returns to host for the seventh time, and dancers from the Vienna State Ballet will be featured along with great landscape shots of Vienna and its historical landmarks.

And of course there will be the final clap-along encore: The Radetzky March, which you can hear conducted by Daniel Barenboim in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Julie Andrews

Once again, The Ear recalls that it used to air at a much earlier, more family-friendly hour.

For more information, go to:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/from-vienna-the-new-years-celebration-2016/4440/

Maybe next year will see earlier broadcast times and more information about the programs and broadcast’s duration on the web and the regular radio schedule.


Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet opens its new season this coming Saturday night with a program of Mendelssohn, Dohnanyi and Hugo Wolf.

September 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ancora String Quartet will open its new season this coming Saturday night, Sept. 19, at 7:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The historic building was designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Tickets can be purchased at the door: $15 for general admission, $12 for seniors and students; and $6 for children under 12.

The ASQ will welcome back first violinist Leanne League for its 15th Season.

Members of the quartet (below in a photo by Barry Lewis) are violinists Robin Ryan (left) and Leanne Kelso League (right), violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (top center) and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb (bottom center).

Barry Lewis

Members of the Ancora String Quartet play in other groups such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Whitcomb teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The fall program by the critically acclaimed quartet opens with the luminous and spirited Quartet, Op. 44, No. 3, by Felix Mendelssohn, followed by the darkly impassioned 2nd quartet of Ernő Dohnányi. The storm clouds are dispersed with the program closer, the sunny “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf. (The “Italian Serenade” can be heard in a YouTube video at bottom.)

A champagne reception will close the evening.

Also of interest: The Ancora Quartet will also team up again with the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie Quartet for a reprise of their performance a few years ago of the Octet by Felix Mendelssohn. The performance will be on Friday, Oct. 9, at the Fort Atkinson Club. For more information, visit: http://www.fortatkinsonclub.org/

 


Classical music: “The Willies” –- the Willy Street Chamber Players -– excel in fabulous Bach and Mendelssohn at the last concert of the new group’s inaugural season. Don’t miss the second season next summer.

August 3, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

Surely the greatest and happiest surprise of this summer’s music season is the sudden emergence of the Willy Street Chamber Players (below), a group of mostly string players that almost seems to have popped up out of the ground spontaneously.

Willy Street Chamber Players logo

They have introduced themselves in four concerts on successive Fridays this month—experimenting with shorter-length, one-hour programs, and giving three of them at 6 in the evening, and one family concert at Friday noon.

Each concert has drawn progressively larger audiences at Immanuel Lutheran Church (below top) on Spaight Street, on the city’s near East Side.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Willy Street audience

Most important, the group involves a bevy of former University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music students who play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and who are simply brimming over with talent and with the joy of making music together.

Their final concert this season, on last Friday night, officially offered two works. As a “thank you” to the increasing number of sponsors and a swelling public, however, the group also gave a glowing performance of the Gavotte movement from the “Holberg” Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (below). (You can hear the tuneful Grieg played by a much larger and far less intimate chamber orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

edvard grieg

The Grieg prefaced their playing the first full-length work, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.

As now properly recognized, the Bach concerto is a work for nine solo string players (three each of violins, violas, cellos — below top, second and third in that order respectively) with basso continuo from the harpsichord (below bottom).

The intricacy of the part writing, especially involving constant interaction of the six upper parts, is particularly well appreciated when one can actually watch the players, who presented the music with a splendid combination of dash and discipline. (And they solved the notorious problem of what to do with the two-chord middle “movement” by adding only the tiniest violin cadenza on the first chord—very sensible and responsible.)

Willy Street Bach violins

Wiily Street Bach violas

Willy Street Bach cellos

Willy Street Bach harpsichord Jason Kutz

The final, and larger, work on the program was the Octet in E-flat by Felix Mendelssohn. This is the creation of an astoundingly precocious 17-year-old genius, and by general agreement it is a virtual miracle of composition.

Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn’s recourse to such a demanding scoring was not without precedent. He composed this in 1825. At about the same time, in the years 1823-47, the violinist-composer Louis Spohr (below) wrote four “Double Quartets” opposing two discrete string quartets against each other.

Louis Spohr

And, quite frequently, in his writing Mendelssohn does adopt the same strategy, pitting two distinct groups against each other. But he also explores the possibilities of eight-part texture, rich in contrasting colors and contrapuntal invention. It both is, and is more than, a simplistic double quartet.

Our eight Willy Street players did position themselves (below) as two opposing string quartets — with the cellists out in front, for a novel emphasis on the bass line.

Wily Street Mendelssohn Octet

Once again, it was such a benefit to watch these players engage each other in so many different ways. And with what spirit! Here was the music of a teenage genius, played by eight young players who threw their youthful élan into their work with unbounded passion. Yet there was also discipline, and the most careful nuancing of each player’s lines.

I would say that this is possibly the best performance I have ever heard of this work, certainly in live concert—something up to the highest professional and artistic standards.

I find it difficult to express fully my excitement over the sudden creation of this marvelous pool of young musicians. They have made it clear that this was just their first season: they are planning to return next summer, with some possible activities in between.

For member biographies, news and other information, here is a link to the group’s website:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

With minimal promotion so far, based on simple word-of-mouth publicity, The Willies — as I call them — have already found a swelling and enthusiastic audience.

Madison’s lovers of highest-class chamber music should take note, support and attend. How can I say it better? They are simply fabulous! It is an enormous blessing to any community that is lucky enough to generate such players!


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players end their first summer season with a MUST-HEAR concert of works by Bach and Mendelssohn this Friday night at 6.

July 30, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The new group The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) — certainly the biggest and most successful music news story of this summer — will end its first summer season with a MUST-HEAR concert on Bach and Mendelssohn this Friday night at 6 p.m.

Willy Street Brahms Sextet

The concert is at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, which has both a performance space with fine acoustics hall and plenty of free parking.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Immanuel Lutheran interior

Admission is $12 for adults; $8 for students and seniors.

You could hardly ask for a better program, which features two undisputed masterpieces.

The first is the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). It is scored without violins but for lower strings and it is irresistible for its melodies and harmonies and especially for its driving energy and rhythm.

Bach1

The second work is the astonishing Octet -– really a double string quartet –- by Felix Mendelssohn (below) who composed it when he was only 16. It may well be Mendelsohn’s best work. It too is irresistible is its energy and melodies. It is thrilling and one of the quintessential chamber music works of all time! (You can hear the impetuous opening in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

mendelssohn_300

The Ear is going and so should you.

By all accounts, the inaugural season of the Willy Street Chamber Players -– which included everything from classic Handel, Mozart, Brahms and Dvorak to new music by contemporary composers and a noon concert for families – has been a great success.

The fine playing — members also perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — was justly praised by many, and large audiences turned out.

Here is a link to a review The Ear did of the first concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/classical-music-the-ear-recommends-hearing-the-july-performances-by-the-new-east-side-group-the-willy-street-chamber-players-the-next-concert-is-tomorrow-at-noon/

It’s enough to make one hopeful about a second season for the group and to make one impatient to see the programs.

The Ear bets both are already in the works!


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